How do the Arizona Rattlers measure success?
Just look up and count the ArenaBowl championship banners – 1994, 1997, 2012, 2013 – hanging from the rafters of Talking Stick Resort Arena in downtown Phoenix.
And, come March 28, when the Rattlers kick off their 23rd season against the Spokane Shock, a fifth banner will be dropped in celebration of last year’s ArenaBowl victory over the Cleveland Gladiators.
Founded in 1992 as an expansion team, the Rattlers reign as the Arena Football League’s third-oldest active franchises. Arizona also is one of the AFL’s most storied teams, having made 19 playoff appearances and winning nine West Division championships and four National Conference titles.
Speculation began in 1987 – before the arrival of Valley teams like the Cardinals, Diamondbacks, Coyotes and Mercury – that Phoenix would be a target for the newly formed AFL. On Sept. 11, 1991, it was announced that Jerry Colangelo would be awarded a franchise. Colangelo, then-owner of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, tried to hire Frank Kush as the team’s first coach, but the Arizona State University legend declined the invitation.
That paved the way for the hiring of another ASU icon, former quarterback Danny White, in October 1991 to lead the fledgling franchise. Two months later, the team announced its name, based on the results of a newspaper contest that generated more than 6,000 responses. More than 250 of those suggested the name “Arizona Rattlers.” In addition, 55 percent of those who responded preferred “Arizona” over “Phoenix.”
In 1992, the Rattlers began their inaugural season by playing their first two games on the road. When they returned for their home debut at then-America West Arena, they treated a sellout crowd of 15,505 to a 56-31 beating of the Sacramento Attack.
In 1994, Arizona would win its first ArenaBowl, a 36-31 decision over the Orlando Predators. Three years later, the Rattlers claimed their second world championship, downing the Iowa Barnstormers, 55-33. Then, in December 1999, White, Gene Nudo and Will Meris pursued the purchase of the Rattlers from Colangelo.
Fast-forward to 2008.
After a dismal 4-12 season in 2007, it was announced in 2008 that Brett Bouchy would become the new owner of the Rattlers. His new coach, Kevin Guy, made an immediate impact, leading the team to an 8-8 record and a playoff berth for the first time since 2006.
The following year, however, the AFL suspended operations indefinitely. Bouchy and an investment group started making plans to launch a new league called Arena Football 1 and helped the Rattlers and Orlando Predators to become two of the four teams to survive and return in 2010 with Arena Football 1. In early 2010, Arena Football 1 was granted trademarks to the AFL brand and was renamed the Arena Football League. In 2011, Bouchy was forced to surrender ownership of one of the teams.
He chose the Rattlers.
That set the stage for new ownership. On May 12, 2011, prominent Valley businessman Ron Shurts – a Rattlers season-ticket holder since the team’s founding in 1992 – would take over as the new majority owner.
“I have been an Arizona Rattlers season-ticket holder since day one and attended the first Arizona Rattlers game at America West Arena,” Shurts told the media. “I believe in the team and the Arena Football League.
“I want to bring the passion and excitement for Rattlers football back to Talking Stick Resort Arena and the Valley.”
Shurts has delivered on that promise. Under Guy, the Rattlers have made four straight trips to the ArenaBowl, winning the past three championship games in a row – including last year’s 72-32 victory over the Cleveland Gladiators for the franchise’s fifth title in nine ArenaBowl appearances. The only other AFL team to win three consecutive championships was the Detroit Drive in 1988-90.
In all, the Rattlers have won 67 percent of their games (249-125), drawn almost 2.4 million fans, and placed four players in the AFL’s Hall of Fame (Sherdrick Bonner, Hunkie Cooper, Randy Gatewood, Bob McMillen).
Off the field, the organization also has a reputation for being equally committed to winning over the hearts of the community. The Rattlers – from the coaches and players, to the Sidewinders dancers and front-office staff – are involved in appearances, charitable donations and outreach programs with nonprofit and community groups.
In the past year alone, the team has made nearly 300 appearances at schools, hospitals and food banks, while hosting a holiday toy drive, a Christmas party for disadvantaged children, and an interactive, fan-friendly “Rattlers Den” at the Waste Management Phoenix Open at the TPC Scottsdale.
These are just some of the ways the Rattlers give back to the community that has given them so much for 22 years.